Saturday, January 27, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Demon Seed

Exodus 20:17 –
Problem, Poison, Pursuit

Covetousness is an unlawful desire of what is not rightfully yours. We are to have passion and we can have desires, we can “covet” the right things, but they must be lawful and lawfully done. Covetousness will eat you up inside: you feed it, you feed it, you feed it, but it is never satisfied.

It was the sin of Satan (Isaiah 14:12-14) – you could be close to God and want more than God. This ought to show you that it takes God Himself living on the inside of you to avoid this sin.

It was the sin of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:6) – others that have done it want you to do it, misery loves company. Advertising to perceived needs is planting the poisoned seed of covetousness and it leads to people who are possessed with possessions and/or possessed by possessions.

It was the sin of David – it was his covetousness that led to his lust. Look at the illustration the prophet Nathan used to describe David’s sin (2 Samuel 12:1-8).

It was the sin of the Pharisees (Luke 16:10-14) – covetousness is not about money only. Covetousness: we want what God has or think we deserve what God gives to others.

Prosperity (possessions) / Power / Prestige (status) / Position / Praise (recognition)

I want to show you how covetousness is tied up with and turns into pride and lust

CovetousnessI want it (our flesh and the enemy says "I need it")

PrideI deserve it (Pride confuses the issue by stating I do rightfully desire it)

LustI’ll do it (whatever it takes / I’d take it under the right circumstances / it’s worth it)

I want it because I deserve it and so I’ll do it (in my heart and I would with my hands)

This commandment sums up all the others, and even though we are not under the Law, it still describes an evil we are commanded to avoid in the New Testament. Galatians 5:14 – covetousness ruins this. This sin stifles the grace in our lives. Example: If we covet others’ position we will criticize them overly and unfairly and we will break the 9th commandment. We love to hear when someone else has got a problem because we wouldn’t want to be the only ones. Why? Because we covet those that don’t, but all do, but everything is not out in the open, and not everything should be, and that is why we gossip. We could go on and on, but the 10th commandment shows the heart impulse that causes us to break the other 9 commandments.

The sins of the senses are just the surface – Ears, eyes, hands, tongue, nose (critical, smell bad, nosy) – the root of all these is covetousness in our heart, that was the seed that was sown by Satan. The first nine commandments deal with action, but the tenth is about attitude. The first nine are about deeds the tenth is about desire. It is a heart issue – remember Romans 2:25-29 – until we deal with the heart all the rest are just rules.

Remember Romans 1 & 2 – some have not done those things but we all have wanted to do some of those things. Holiness starts in the heart not the hands therefore the root problem is your heart not your hands. Did you want to? Now if you did want to that doesn’t mean you should go ahead and do the thing, that would only compound the problem, but the issue is the heart. Remember the pattern we saw from Romans 1, it’s idolatry then immortality (Colossians 3:5 / Ephesians 5:5). We put something ahead of God and we act out of that impulse towards impurity.

Paul teaches us in Romans 7:7-8 that it was “Thou shall not covet” which made him aware of his own sinfulness. Surely what was true of Paul is true of us all.

We don’t joy in God, and we are not content in Him, and in what He has given us. Therefore we hinder what He would give us, because it will either spoil us, and so He does not give it, or we mess it up by going out from the lunch line, and we cannot get that thing we really wanted, just as He might have been about to give it to us. We look for our own way, and go round in circles. The pride that says we deserve it leads to lust, which says I deserve it now, or why do I have to wait, or why do I have to deal with this situation, or why am I here? Lust is “I want it my way and in my time, and that time is now”. It wants to go outside God's guidelines to find satisfaction. It covets what someone else has, which it thinks it deserves. In the unregenerate, the command makes us want to do it more, and so too, in a sense for the regenerate, but in the believer, the regenerate, they now have to power to use that thing as an occasion, not to sin, but to win. They can see that Christ does reign in their bodies, and that they can overcome sin, even the sin of covetousness, by the power of Christ.

Mark 7:15 – Is Jesus saying those things aren’t bad, and that it doesn’t matter what we put into our bodies and our minds? No, what He is saying is that it is the heart that makes us want those bad things in the first place. The sin within, the heart is the start. That stuff is bad, but it isn’t as bad as the heart, it is already corrupt, wanting that stuff only shows what is on the inside already.

James 1:13-15 – the sin is within. This is application gleaned from these verses, not strict exegesis.
Vs.9 – he is exalted when he stays humbled he knows he is low but he gives God praise anyway. He worships him from that position of lowliness because he knows that is what he will always be compared to God anyway, so no matter how high he is allowed to climb he keeps himself bowed down before the Lord.
Vs.10 – Psalm 116:6 / Psalm 34:6 / Matthew 5:3 – humble yourself
Vs.11 – his pursuits come to nothing. What is it that you are chasing after?
Vs.12 – overcome and you will be established (temporal not just eternal – vs.15). When he has been proved – Romans 12:1-2 – a living sacrifice receives God’s life. Isaiah 59:19 – the enemy comes in like a flood to water that seed, but God’s Holy Spirit standard is there. If you keep the standard you will be established and if you yield to God’s power then God’s life becomes more manifest in you, and rivers of living water will come out. Which water are you thirsting for?
Vs.17 – if God doesn’t give it then it isn’t good. You may not get everything you want down here but let me tell you if God doesn’t give it, you don’t want it.

Ezekiel 33:31 – we can be going to church and only going through the motions as we saw in Romans 2:25-29 – coming to hear and thinking it will sink in, like osmosis, without applying it and acting in accordance with it, as if it were automatic.

Friends, just because God is sovereign doesn’t mean we can be static; God ordains the end, but also the means to that end (James 1:22-25). Being satisfied in Christ doesn’t mean satisfied with our Christian life. This is a lawful desire. We press on and press in; we must pursue holiness.

Hebrews 12:14 / James 1:11 – It isn’t one prayer and then poof it’s gone, no, we have to learn, and cultivate godliness, we need new practices and new pursuits – This is the knowledge of God and to endure the temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13) and get that crown of life, to have God’s life more manifest in you, you need to do 2 Corinthians 10:5 – that is the way out but eventually the door closes. If you don’t take the fork off the road you won’t get off until your dead in that sin.

Identity – Luke 12:15 – I am not just this or that I am in Christ, that is how I identify myself, not by my possessions or my position or my prestige or my power, I am going higher than that! Psalm 23 – antidote for covetousness – if we follow the Lord’s lead we will be satisfied.

Thankfulness – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 – be thankful when you don’t need something otherwise the only way for Him to get thankfulness from you is to put you in a situation of need.

Contentment – Hebrews 13:5 (KJV) – we compare our situations with some imaginary perfect one and we get dissatisfied. Someone else’s gain is not your loss. Learn to love what God has done in other people’s lives. We need to be grateful for what others have and for their blessings.

You might be thinking, or may have thought, “He hasn’t done much for me”, well go back and look, are you still in that pit of sin you were in before? We have grown in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, haven’t we? This is a reason why we need memorials: not to make them shrines but to realize where we came from, and to remind us of where we are going.

If you have a problem the problem isn’t God the problem is you. How are you doing? “Better than I deserve.” The next breath that I am going to take is not something that is mine by right, any more than the pulsing of my heart is anything that I have done something to earn. So being allowed to live – let alone being saved by the sacrifice of Jesus – is much, much, more than I deserve. We get Mercy (we don’t get what we do deserve, hell) and Grace (we do get what we don’t deserve, heaven). So given all these things for which we have to be grateful, why is it that the quality and extent of our worship of Jesus remains so much less than He deserves from us? Worship is a key.

It is in our fallen nature to hold on tight to what we get. A cure for that is to be a giver. Whatever God has blessed you with give some to others and back to God. If it is money, then give money, if it is time, then time, if it is talent, then talent. Lets look at Jesus (Matthew 4 / Philippians 2:6): He didn’t covet things unlawfully. He didn’t hold on to what He had. He had all the riches of heaven but the only thing He held on to was the Father. What are you holding on to today? What is your desire today? What are you pursuing after? What is it that you want that Jesus doesn’t have (Romans 8:32 / Ephesians 1:3 / Colossians 3:1-3 / James 1:17 / Hebrews 12:1-2)?

Psalm 119:36 – pray that God would cause us to long for His to obey His Word. Proverbs 3:13-14 / 23:23 – buy the truth – don’t trade the Word of God for anything on earth. Don’t let anyone steal your treasure or trade it for that demon seed.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Holiness or Heaviness?

…power according to the Spirit of holiness…
(Romans 1:4 – ESV)

We are supposed to be living as new creatures in Christ, according to the Spirit of holiness not the spirit of heaviness – 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 / Luke 4:18 / Isaiah 61:3. Holiness is not a stiff upper lip. Still, people are always trying to consecrate the old man, and no wonder they think the Christian life is miserable. The old man won’t ever conform to Christ, so we need to stop trying to make him do it. Instead we need to focus on the new man. Concentrating primarily on not feeding the flesh is too often just flesh-powered, will-powered, self-help, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps nonsense to God and His ways and His life. We must concentrate on feeding the Spirit (Galatians 6:7-8).

Trying to reform the old man is fruitless, we need to simply live from the inside out instead of from the outside in. It is about the new you; focus on building up the new man. Forget about the old man and he will eventually lose his primacy in our lives. Instead many are just trying to make the old man get in line, but he never will (Romans 8:7-8). We need spiritual maturity not sin management, we need biblical ministry not behavior modification, we need to decrease the therapy and increase the theology.

Focus on the new man, 2 Corinthians 5:17 / Ephesians 4:24 / Colossians 3:10. The reason it seems so hard and awful is because we are trying to do it on our own power. We are trying to get our old man to shape up, but we need to realize that God has crucified him, and it is painful. Romans 12:1-2 / 1 Peter 4:1 talk about being a living sacrifice and suffering in the flesh, but what we get in return is Life.

You see when you are saved you are saved but how well you live this life depends on how much you let Him live His life in you. God is going to get you home but your power and your perspective depends on His presence in power in your life. If you are born again, are you showing forth, declared as a son of God by the Spirit of holiness through your born again life (Ephesians 2:1 / Colossians 2:13 / Romans 8:19)? Are you living in resurrection power?

We should be shouting, “free at last” – you may be born again but do you understand and are you realizing (making real, cashing in) on all of what that means for you in this life? We are free from the penalty of sin but also free from the power of sin. Sin is what is making you heartsick.

We are supposed to be showing that we are sons of God according to the Spirit of holiness by our resurrection from the dead. Yet we think we are shown to be sons of God according to the spirit of heaviness by our looking like we’re dead. You manifest God’s life by the Spirit of holiness, which will make you glad not sad, and your life will preach! Spurgeon – “Holy gladness and holy boldness will make you a good preacher, and all the world will be a pulpit for you to preach in. Cheerful holiness is the most forcible of sermons, but the Lord must give it you”. He has, Christian, He has given you love that surpasses knowledge, a peace that passes all understanding, and joy unspeakable and full of glory. Do you believe? Then pray for it, it is God’s will. Are you operating according to the Spirit of holiness or heaviness?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Of Arrows and Apathy

And he struck three times and stopped.
(2 Kings 13:18 – ESV)

King Joash seemed to be passionate man. He had come to see the prophet Elisha on his deathbed, and wept over him. But was this a misplaced passion? Was the weeping because of the loss of the prophet as a person, or for the loss of the prophet’s power, as a loss to the kingdom? Although we don’t really know because the text doesn’t say so, the rest of this story seems to indicate the latter.

The prophet had directed the king to shoot an arrow out the window, and the king did. Elisha then pronounced victory over the enemy. Then the prophet directed the king to strike his arrows on the ground. However, the apparent apathy with which the king obeyed the prophet indicated the condition of his heart. It was weak, and willing to respond, but only in a half hearted way. He had been assured of the victory, and now he wasn’t as interested in finishing up whatever else Elisha had for him to do.

How often is it is this way in our lives? Just like King Joash we have misplaced our passion. We have received what we think is God’s best for us, or at least what we wanted out of the deal, and we don’t press on and or press in to what God really wants for us, a total and complete victory. Instead our halfhearted response to the power and blessing of God on our lives effectively limits the scope of our victory.

We can have a mighty arsenal with all the artillery we could ever need but if we don’t put it to use it will do us no good. Indeed, it will become a burden instead of a blessing, weighing us down with responsibilities we are too lazy to discharge. It is like the renewing of our minds or putting on the full armor of God, or thinking on pure things, or any number of items that we are admonished to do. Just because God is sovereign doesn’t mean we can be static. Are you armed by God or armed with apathy?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Dead Men Can Dance

How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God…
(Genesis 28:17)

The modern versions of the Bible use the word awesome where the King James Version uses the word dreadful, and the old rendering gives a better sense, in a sense, because the majesty of God is indeed a dreadfully awesome thing. Think of Isaiah 6, or the many angelic encounters we see recorded in scripture. When faced with the hosts of heaven, men fall to their knees in worship, reverence, or just plain fear, and probably a combination of all three.

However, in our churches today, we have replaced the majesty of God for the marvels of the world. We have all the latest technology, sound equipment, you name it, we are as state-of-the-art as any amusement park out there, in some respects, and certainly as powerful as any theater, in many cases. Now using technology and visual, audio, etc. is not in itself a bad thing, only if it distracts from the real reasons we are to be at church. Too many have been blindsided by the spectacle and not awed by the holiness, the otherworldliness, and instead have met only the majesty of the worldliness we can muster up. Today many could be in the presence of God but like Jacob they would not know it (vs.16). We have taken things that the world would call “awesome” and have Christianized or baptized them into sanctity. But they are merely spectacular in a worldly sense. They would say “awesome” to its worldly counterpart as well.

So what is the net effect? They liked the experience but they could get that anywhere. They didn’t experience God they had a sensory overload, a soulish delight, not a spiritual awakening or enlightenment. What we need is not bigger and better versions of the world’s diversions we need something that the world cannot duplicate. We need the honest to goodness real thing, the presence of God in our midst. A holy fear of God among us is the fruit of such an encounter, and the response not “wow how cool was that” but “wow what a fool I’ve been”.

It is a matter of emphasis and priority. The emphasis is on entertainment instead of ministry. The priority is on the fun of fellowship instead of the exhortation and encouragement. Hebrews 10:24 says we are to stir each other up to love and good works in the assembly, not stir ourselves up to laughter and enjoyment as our key to building each other up. Instead of just accepting the world’s culture we need to line them up, learn them up, and lift them up (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

When we have special events that aren’t as focused on the proclamation of the Word, these things are not necessarily bad. But ask yourself why we have more people attend, especially those people who don’t normally “do church”? Of course some na├»ve minister or immature congregant will tell you, “Oh we should do this all the time, we get people who otherwise wouldn’t be here”. That is the point, they will come if it is entertaining, but if it is seeking God’s face in worship they want no part of it. They want a safe place but not a sanctified one. They act Christian without conviction. They can praise but they can’t truly worship.

We think that we can play the worlds songs with just a little Christian tuning up and things will be all right. It seems to work, doesn’t it? Well, we think that just because we get them coming to us, just because we get them moving with us, and just because they begin to act like us that we have converted them, but only God converts, friend. They may be active with their flesh but in their spirits they are still dead men. You see, we could even have them dancing in the aisles, but when the tune is on the same frequency as the world, even dead men can dance.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Camp In A Cave

O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
(Psalm 15:1 – ESV)

The love that God requires is spelled out in Scripture as needing to come from God Himself. We cannot produce this kind of love. It comes to us through the Holy Spirit. This love will seek out others of like, precious faith. The stylistic preferences and certain convictions may not change much, but a true lover of God will love other believers in spite of minor differences, and won’t look to make minor things major stumbling blocks to fellowship.

We have talked before about someone joining together with others who had a belief in the mystical walk they were engaging in. Elsewhere we have discussed the fact that it is not good to withdraw totally from society, to live in a “church ghetto”, as it were. Whatever the reason, many have nothing to do with other believers. They hide out with their own in a "cave".

All of these are similar in that they paint a picture of a love for peculiarity. This is self-love (the group can be used as the self), not love for God and man. Saying that “we pray for them, but we will not fellowship with them” when exercised on all fronts is a perversion of earnestly contending for the faith.

When a group is shunned by the larger church (or even when it is self-applied) sometimes that group will revel in the fact that they are different. This must mean they are right, they will think, because they are being “persecuted”. This was often seen among the other false movements of the past. We see it today, and an “us against the world” mentality can be hard to pierce through.

Do you ever wonder why gangster films and TV shows appeal to so many? It is partly because of the loyalty factor. The people in the family are well taken care of, there is revelry in togetherness, and the family sticks it to those who mess with one of their own. Even though these men are thugs, they are seen in a sympathetic light because they are thought of as basically good people with a bad job. Watch such a program with a crowd and see what comments you get, like “at least they do this”, or “at least they don’t do that”, or “I would shoot that guy, too”, or “maybe they are crooks, but they aren’t all bad”, or “they are basically good on the inside”.

How does this apply? Think about it. These wise guys are seen as heroic or good in a way because they take care of their own. How many people do you know that are nice to loved ones, but mean as rattlesnakes to everybody else? This parallels the lawyer in the Good Samaritan parable, wanting to know exactly whom he has to love, so as to know whom he can exclude. When we love only those like us we are doing no better than the world (Matthew 5:46-47).

Jesus said to love your enemies (Matthew 5:44). It is easy to love your friends, and this is the line of demarcation between the Spirit of Truth and a spirit of error. We must come together on the basis of the essentials of the faith, have respect for others who hold to differing secondary doctrines, and show the love of Christ to the outside world by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Have you ever met, known, or been someone involved in the “we are the only ones who are right” society? They have conferences with celebrities of their sect whom no one else has ever heard of. Not that notoriety is good or bad, but that the reason these flakes aren’t known to other sections of the body of Christ is because no one else will buy their brand of baloney! They have their own ministry mafia; they are their own spiritual syndicate. They think they have exciting camp meetings but they might as well hold them in a cave, for there isn’t much light shining out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Defeated and Discontented

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(Romans 1:7)

Beloved of God – you are pleasing to God but you need to exercise your faith for it to manifest in your life (Ephesians 1:6 / Colossians 3:12 / Hebrews 11:6). God is not against you for your sins, He is for you against your sins. We are not at war with God (Romans 5:1), so we need to get on the right side of the battle. You don’t have to do things to get Him to love you and to bless you. In faith you are pleasing to God, and He wants to please you, you just need to get with the program. You can’t be fed lunch when you aren’t in the lunch line, stop complaining about being hungry and get in line.

Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2). You have got to keep on keeping on, and give thanks to God no matter what (Job 13:15). You have got to “pray through” (Daniel 9:2-19). Don’t let the world, the flesh, and the devil steal your blessing (Mark 4). You hear the message, you know it is for you, you believe it, you receive it with joy, and then you go home and let it all slip away. Keep watching and keep praying (1 Peter 4:7).

Preachers, we need to be more concerned about what happens to our people after they leave the building, not just how excited they get when they are in the building. We need to teach people not only how to get it, but how to keep it. Continue in prayer, and abound in thanksgiving.

Abounding in thanksgiving means to be giving thanks a lot, but also that you will abound when you are in a continuously thankful attitude (Colossians 2:7). Remember the old hymn, whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. This is the will of God (1 Thessalonians 5:18)! A.W. Tozer said that God wants to please you, but He will not do it if it will spoil you. We are beloved yet still discontent, and we are not ready for God’s blessing (Hebrews 13:5).

Proverbs 30:15-16 / Proverbs 27:20 – There are two sorts of discontentment, one good, and one very, very bad. There is spiritual discontentment and there is carnal discontentment. The heart of a carnally discontent person is comfortless. Wherever he goes, his ever-increasing misery goes with him. It is hell on earth. The flesh is a raging fire that will never be satisfied. The carnal nature can never be satisfied, if you are discontent, you are living out of your flesh. Our contentment must be in God (Colossians 3:3), or we will be discontent. Philippians 2:3-15 – Jesus was able to give up heaven and take on flesh because He was content in God.

James 4:1-2 – discontent originates in self. Self is the assertive principle in this agony of wars, fighting and murders. It is ‘your lusts that war . . .’ Self gives birth to carnal discontentment. This is always the case; there is no exception.

Psalm 127:2 (ESV) – It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. Don’t be so anxious (Philippians 4:6).

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Fire Of Obedience

… we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
(Daniel 3:18)

This passage gives us perhaps the starkest contrast between the presumption and the obedience of faith. It also provides us with clear insight as to how we can identify each, and is relevant for today in that it deals with situational pressure not uncommon in today’s world. Of course, we are not as yet subject to being thrown into a fiery furnace, but the emotions and the temptation to compromise are the same in a sense.

Having seen so many different instances of what the presumption of faith looks like, and now having seen the antithesis, the obedience of faith, you hopefully are convinced of the need to discern between each. The question is: HOW? Pay close attention, please, you won’t regret it.

The young men had been obedient in some smaller details earlier in Babylon. Recall how they were not eating the polluted meat, but trusted God by eating only vegetables. Lesson: the obedience of faith is about being obedient in the small things first. Obedience in “little” areas opens up true faith to be used in “big” areas, not God doing something “big”, and then you obey in the small things. Question: are you waiting for God to do something big before you let go and completely obey? How many times do you compromise on the little things?

These young men knew that God was able to deliver them, but they did not presume that He would. These men knew that they were innocent in God’s eyes, but that they were indeed guilty of disobeying the unjust law. They were ready to suffer the flames of the fiery furnace of Nebuchadnezzar rather than suffer the fiery furnace of Hell. They were obedient to God’s will, believing as Job did – Though he slay me, yet will I trust him (Job 13:15). They did not whine about injustice, and did not use excuses to compromise. They could have reasoned, “why not just give in this once, for ten minutes?” Or, “we will be able to help our brethren more by staying alive”. But they did not compromise God’s glory for the sake of their own skin.

Lesson: The obedience of faith is concerned with matters of eternal importance, more than matters of earthly importance. Even in death we have victory, because we are not to fear them that can destroy the body but cannot destroy the soul (Matthew 10:28). Question: Do you complain out loud or to God about having to do more than others? Do you complain about injustice and/or persecution? Do you try to help God out by bending the rules?

These young men knew that they were doing what was right. They knew that their God was God. But they didn’t try and vindicate themselves by shouting down the King with taunts such as, “Our God will save us, you loser!” They didn’t presume upon God by acting holier than thou about their faith. They had confidence in God; but in His overall love and purpose for them, not in a belief that they would be shown as righteous before men.

Lesson: The obedience of faith is living out your faith before God and man, not giving lip service to God and provoking man. These men did not put their faith in a vacuum, everyone knew of them. But they did not live their faith with a microphone, either. Question: Do you think that if you are “doing what is right” that no harm can come to you? Do you chide others about their sin? Do sinners see God’s grace when they encounter you, or do you trumpet your personal faith?

How tragic it is to see supposed Christians today ignoring the lessons observed here. Some are waiting for God to move, while He is waiting for them to move. Some separate themselves from the culture so much that they never encounter the lost outside of church functions. Others browbeat people with the fact that they are “saved”.

There are many who believe that they are sanctified, when they are only sanctimonious. This behavior elicits two responses: “hypocrite”, or “holier than thou”, and neither works to bring the lost to repentance. Still others believe in their personal vindication, thinking that if they are following God that they can revile men. To these latter two groups I would advise a careful reading of the second chapter of Romans.

In this life we will all have to go through some fiery trials. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1 Peter 4:12 – ESV). Everyone will have to go through a fiery furnace. There is the one the world puts you in for not doing it their way, but that one God uses to burn off the dross, He uses it as a refiners fire. The other type is the one that awaits those that bow down to the idols of this world. The question is, which one do you want?

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Saturday Sermon: The Heart, Not The Hands

Romans 2:25-29

The Key To Holiness

Besides the Jewish context, the Holy Spirit has used this text to demonstrate a larger point as well. The words circumcision and Jew point to larger things, circumcision meaning your system, your profession, your creed, and Jew meaning your place, your status, and your relationship to God. Circumcision described the whole Jewish system of belief and practice. When Paul says “Jew”, it is those who have a right relationship with God. The Jews thought they were by their birth, their customs, religious system, and their history, and Paul says these are good and right things, but they are forfeited by transgressing the covenant.

He gets to the point of saying only the Spirit can help us. He is showing us the seeds of where he is going. From 1:16 we saw the power of God for salvation, the gospel, and we have since seen that all are under the judgment of God and in need of the gospel. Paul will continue in chapter 3 using OT scripture to back up what he had been saying, but here he gives us a glimpse of hope. Hebrews 12:14 says without holiness we will not see God, but we can have holiness, we can have a right standing with God, we can be what Paul calls true Jews, there is a way, and the Spirit of God is involved in it. For non-believers this will help explain what we mean when we say that you must be holy, and that we are holy although our lives don’t always show it.

He is also planting the seed idea that you cannot make a decision for God, not in truth, not in saving way, without the help of the Holy Spirit. We begin to see how God has orchestrated the entire scenario, in order to bring about salvation from every nation, tribe, and tongue, and not just a physical people, but a spiritual one. Of course we do not know all of God’s sovereign plan from our standpoint as individuals, we are only told to trust and obey. Men are told to order their lives according to God's commands and not according to their subjective sense of His secret, sovereign decrees. God has a plan, and He is working it out, our job is to believe. He has shown us that all have broken the Law, and He will move on to the fact that Jesus paid the ticket for His people, and His people are not simply the physical descendants of Abraham, though some are.

The Jews had the advantages but some people have all the advantages and they don’t take advantage of them. When it comes right down to it, it isn’t pedigree it is performance. Similarly we have some who didn’t have any advantages at all but they still achieved a level of performance that put them above those who had it all but could do nothing with it. The ones who are truly skilled and devoted to their craft will be seen as such over the course of time. The pretenders will fade, and the performers will flourish.

But of course that is only a parallel to what we are talking about, and in the spiritual realm, no one is a true performer, we are all pretenders, only Jesus has performed to the level of perfection. Paul is telling us that we don’t have a performance driven faith, and it never really was, which is what Paul will get into when he starts discussing Abraham in chapter 4.

Paul is using a long drawn out case to prove that you don’t have what it takes, no one in history has had what it takes, and even the people God called out to be His, and gave favor to, and gave a system that pointed to His holiness, and an understanding of who He actually is, and gave prophets, and they saw signs and wonders, even these people haven’t had what it takes. What it takes is the Spirit of God to circumcise your heart.

Vs.25 – Your pedigree is of value if your performance matches it, you start out ahead but if you don’t keep with it, it is of no good. The Jews started out ahead, but they couldn’t keep up, of course no one can, that is the point. Your birthright is of value if you act in accordance with it, but your ritual and your practice is not enough because you have changed the Law into something you can manage. James 2:10 / Matthew 5:17-20 (48) – scary but we have a Savior.

Vs.26-27 – Paul is telling Jew and Gentile that if a man keeps the Law it will be as if he was circumcised, and if he fulfills the Law his testimony will stand in judgment of those who have not. Why the point about Gentiles becoming Jews? Paul brings up the issue of Gentiles becoming Jews to help the Jews see that they really have misread their Bibles and really do need salvation by grace through faith, the same as the Gentiles who are inheriting the very promises they thought belonged only to Jews (Ephesians 2:11-19). So in both verses 26 and 27, Paul pictures some Gentiles really being part of God's people and being saved from judgment, while some natural-born Jews are judged and perish at the judgment day. This underlines the need of Jews not to presume upon their privileged place as Jews. They are sinners like everyone else and liable to judgment. Even in the OT, and before Paul’s time, we see that true circumcision is of the heart (Leviticus 26:41 / Jeremiah 9:26 / Ezekiel 44:7,9 / Acts 7:51).

Looking at the Greek words used we see that doing the Law meant doing it all the way.

Vs. 25 (obey – ESV / keep – KJV)
Vs.26 (keep (s) – both)
Vs.27 (keep – ESV / fulfill – KLV) (stronger word here, fulfill, complete)
25-27 – you practice the Law as a habit you keep doing it continually and you finish it up – only Christ has done this all the way.

This brings up an important question –
Are you kept by God or are you keeping the Law (1 Peter 1:4-5 / Galatians 3:8-14)?

Vs.28-29 – the Holy Spirit makes uncircumcised Gentiles into circumcised Jews, namely, by circumcising their hearts. Circumcision is an internal change of heart, not an external change of the sexual organ. When he contrasts "letter" and "Spirit", he means that the Jews had been experiencing the Law at the external level ("letter"). But the Law called for an internal change produced by the Spirit, even if the Law itself couldn't produce that change (Romans 8:3-4).

Well, all of this shows that Paul has Christians in mind, because this is the way he talks about Christian conversion. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6 / Ezekiel 36:37b: (see also Ezekiel 11:19-20) / 1 Corinthians 7:19 / Galatians 5:6, 6:12-17 / Revelation 2:9, 3:9.

A gentile who keeps the Law will be considered as a true Jew, a true Jew is one who fulfills the Law, of course no one had, no one did, and no one will, the Law is meant to bring us to Christ, who fulfilled the Law for us. Then we, having received the Spirit by faith, are circumcised in our hearts, we receive the benefit of Christ having fulfilled the Law for us, we are made a true Jew, we inherit the blessings and promises of Abraham, and we inherit the kingdom of God in Christ Jesus. Now our Law is spiritual, and Paul said it fulfilled in this one word (Galatians 5:14).

Holiness starts in the heart not in the hands. When you try an do the law without the Spirit all you are doing is the external ritual, a set of do’s and don’ts, as we saw Christ in Matthew 5 points out the fallacy of this thinking, and James 2:10 echoes this. Without the Spirit we either reject the Law of God out of hand, or we change it into something we can manage. And in either case we lose, and the Law condemns us: you can become a transgressor of the Law by rejecting it or by trying to keep it in your own strength. Paul calls the law minus the Spirit: "letter." (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Deuteronomy 10:16 – So the point is that a person is a true Jew, a true part of God's redeemed people, if he fulfills the Law, that is, if his heart is circumcised by the Spirit to love God (Deuteronomy 30:6) That's what Paul is talking about here, and you don't have to be a natural-born Jew for it to happen to you. Circumcising our heart to love the Lord (Deuteronomy 30:6) writing the Law of God on our heart (Jeremiah 31:33) freeing us from our need for the praise of man (Romans 2:29). All of this is what Christ obtained for us when he shed his blood to seal the new covenant (Luke 20:22 / Hebrews 13:20).

In Philippians 3:3, Paul points to the truth that the true Israel are the ones who are circumcised in their hearts (Romans 4:12 / Romans 9:6-8 / Colossians 2:11), and these are they who worship in Sprit (John 4:24). Let us realize that God created individual taste and culture, and that music style, etc., isn’t what is important, but the substance of our devotion and faith towards Him is. Paul was saying and is saying that we must not place our faith in the wrong thing; they had placed in what God had given not in God Himself. This is part of what Paul means by having no confidence in the flesh, our confidence in external rituals, which Jesus has done away with.

Ritual such as circumcision is obviously not worshipping in the Spirit, and worshipping God in the Spirit does not mean using spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 4:6-7) or a way of doing things, it is a way of not doing things in a sense. It is worship aided by the Spirit, yes, but it means heart matters, not outward show. This Bible condemns ritualism and going through the motions.

Are you just going through the motions? You can be coming to church, you could have been baptized, you could be taking communion, involved in projects, giving regularly, doing the Bible reading plan, and more. You can be doing all this and God still not have your heart. None of this is bad, it is good, we are supposed to do these things, but these things are not what saves us, these things are not what give us a right standing with God, these things are not what secure the blessings of God on our life, what God wants is your HEART!

Christianity is a heart religion. It isn’t if you give Him your hands He will move your heart it is that if you give him your heart He will move your hands. Let me now give you a summary of chapter two using our sermon titles, to put it all in perspective for you. Others may be worthy of judgment, but so are you, we have the ultimate issue before us, and there are no secrets before God, so don’t fool yourself, the key to holiness is the heart not the hands. However, we have seen repeatedly that Man left to himself can never climb his way out of his own heart. So the answer to the ultimate issue doesn’t lie within us, but within God. That is the gospel, that God has done what is necessary for us to be in right standing with Him, all we need to do is to give Him our heart. You can’t change your own heart but you can have a change of heart. Is God tugging at your heart today? Be holy, be a true Jew. Set yourself apart, let God have your heart.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Called To Be Saints

…who are loved by God and called to be saints…
(Romans 1:7 – ESV)

Christians are called saints (Ephesians 1:1); it isn’t some special designation given by men to other men because of what they have done. The Bible says that even our righteous deeds are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Those who are saved are all saints on account of Jesus Christ and His righteousness. All our good deeds are because of what He has done not what we have done.

Grace and peace to the saints; this is a standard opening of Paul’s. He states the fact that those who have been called saints are also called to be saints; that is those whom God called Paul knew by their faith – they acted like saints, not like aint’s (Romans 1:8 / Colossians 1:2-4). He calls them saints corporately, the group of individuals that God has called out for Himself, the saints.

These days we are committed first to results and relationships. But here Paul declares that we are first called to be saints, to God and His kingdom, not first to results or relationships, but to God. Of course this falling away started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve chose results by Eve wanting what the fruit supposedly offered. Adam still had a choice to make, even after Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, but Adam chose his wife (relationships) rather than God (obeying His Word). This is why Christ said that we must put our relationship with God and His Word above any other relationship; He even described it as “hating” you father and mother as compared to God.

Jesus reversed this human tendency toward results and relationships by denying Himself. In His testing in the wilderness (Matthew 4 / Luke 4), imagine if He had turned the stones to bread. Satan would not have said, “aha!” he would have told Him to feed the world – results to the glory of the devil. But Christ knew the Word comes before the bread – John tells us that Jesus first taught them then fed them (John 6). Satan tempted Jesus in His relationship with the angels, and also with the results of gaining the world. But what will it profit a man to gain the world but lose his soul (Mark 8:36)? Jesus knew the discouragement of having a ministry that didn’t seem to meet its goals (Isaiah 49:1-6), but He with was more interested in faithfulness than results, and He knew that God would reward Him (Philippians 2:9-11 / Hebrews 12:2).

The quest of results and relationships has clouded the judgment of the Church, and of individuals that ought to know better. The world in the church – look at the fruit of the Church Growth Movement – has the Church changed the world, or has the world changed the Church? They may get the whole world into their churches, but are the people transformed, or does that church become transformed? The churches are bigger than ever but full of unregenerate, unrepentant unbelievers. Instead of tares among the wheat we now have wheat among the tares.

We have got it backwards. They even speak of “transformational churches” these days. The Bible says that we are not to be conformed to this world, but we are to be transformed by the renewing of the mind. The people are to be transformed by God, not the church being transformed by the world. They say that if we don’t adapt we will be left behind, but I say that if we do adapt we will be left behind all right, when the trumpet sounds at the Rapture, where the unspotted bride of Christ will be taken away (Ephesians 5:27 / Colossians 1:22). They say that if we don’t get with it that we will fade away. But my Bible says, “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever (Isaiah 40:8).” Again, I say, what profit a man, and we could say, the Church, to gain the world but lose its soul?

You are called to be a saint; how long before you answer the call?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Few Items I Need To Get To…

My father in law JR came home from the rehab hospital today. God bless you and thank you for all your prayers. He won’t need home health care, just outpatient therapy for a while. He can walk with a claw cane, but is still not moving his left arm very well, it has motion, but not strength, but the doctors are hopeful for a full recovery. In any event, praise God…he just got home at 1:00 pm, but he insists on going to church tonight at 7:00 pm. I’m sure it will be a wonderful fellowship time in the Lord….

Also, I want to give a shout out to Brian McDaris for helping me get the scripture pop up pages going.

Is the new “snap” picture pop ups cool, or what?! I saw them over at Kevin’s place and followed the link, it was a snap to install…

Two new links over at the sidebar….Bluecollar ….and Sweet Jazzy Cat …check ‘em out!

BTW, my book has finished from the printer, and I should have a link up to Amazon soon…

Eternal Economy

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
(1 Peter 1:2)

This particular verse speaks of God and His eternal plan and workings to obtain salvation for His chosen ones. However, this passage also echoes what Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:13, that the Spirit is indeed moving us on to sanctification, and that progress will be made as we grow in grace. Notice that election here describes foreknowledge not simply as a decree of God to heaven, but also that it deals with life on earth as well, who are kept by the power of God through faith (vs.5). Upon our justification, we also received definitive sanctification; we WERE set apart for God’s purpose in a real way, sanctified perfectly, right then. We still go through the process of progressive sanctification, however, and sanctification and obedience are hallmarks of election (2 Peter 1:1-11). A continued life of obedience and a transforming character are marks of the Spirit’s work.

We know that Jesus has become our sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30), and so we are already holy as God sees us positional in the Son, but we can and should become more Christ-like here on earth as well. This verse and others state that the condition of a person’s life will come more and more in line with their position in Christ. The question is are you becoming a more obedient Christian? If not, perhaps you need to examine yourself (2 Corinthians 13:5 / 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8). Of course we will not be perfected in this life, so Peter mentions that the blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin (cf.1 John 1:7-10).

The way Peter describes the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit here shows us the Trinity in salvation, or the economic aspect of the Trinity (what God does), as opposed to the ontological aspect of the Trinity (what God is). The covenant of grace was planned by the Father (Ephesians 1:4-5 / Romans 8:28-29,33 / 2 Timothy 1:9), executed by the Son (Ephesians 1:7 / Romans 8:3-4,34 / John 6:37), and applied by the Spirit (Ephesians 1:13 / Romans 8:2,9,15). Galatians 4:4-6 also gives us a look into the economic Trinity in concise terms.

Although the Trinity as a doctrine is not discussed as explicitly as we might like within the New Testament it is certainly woven into the fabric throughout. Take for example this sampling of 20 texts: Isaiah 48:16 / Isaiah 61:1 / Isaiah 63:9-10 / Zechariah 2:1-10 / Matthew 28:19 / Mark 1:10-11 / John 14:16-26 / John 15:26 / John 16:7-15 / Romans 8:1-11 / 1 Corinthians 12:3-6 / 2 Corinthians 13:14 / Galatians 4:4-6 / Ephesians 1:3-14 / Ephesians 2:18 / Ephesians 4:4-6 / 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 / Titus 3:4-6 / 1 Peter 1:2 / Jude 20-21.

However, the truth about the Trinity is that we are not restricted to “all in one verse” texts; other texts show evidence of the Trinity by showing the deity of Jesus and/or the distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit. There is massive evidence including verses where Jesus is called God (Theos), such as John 20:28 / Acts 20:28 / Romans 9:5 / Titus 2:13 / Hebrews 1:8 / 2 Peter 2:1 / 1 John 5:20.

The Trinity is the truth, and the truth is that the Triune God has a perfect plan for your life. The question is how well are you following God’s economic forecast?

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

GO GATORS!!!!!!!

The church I pastor is less than 50 miles from campus...we are definitely in Gator Country....and the Florida Gators are simultaneously the national champions in both football and basketball...the only team in NCAA history to hold both at the same time...'nuff said...

A Joy That Is Greater Than A Job

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
(Philippians 4:11 – ESV)

Susan, I have feelings and emotions just like you. The reasons I don’t seem as upset as you have nothing to do with “keeping a stiff upper lip”, and I am not in denial, either. You see, Susan, I also have to provide for my family, and this layoff surprised me as much as anybody. I certainly didn’t expect it.

Of course, these kinds of things happen to people every day, and this won’t be the only time we’re surprised, or the only time we face a crisis situation. The real question is, as you say, why do I seem to be able to handle it well? It’s because I’m confident in my future, and it doesn’t depend on a job, it depends on the One who really provides for me. It isn’t me alone out there.

No, I don’t have a rich uncle. What I have is a relationship with God, the One who created the universe, and the One who has everything under control. To know Him, Susan, to know Him gives you a peace that passes any earthly understanding. Even when bad things happen, and they happen to everybody, I can trust God to help me through the bad times.

God tells us in His Word, the Bible, that He will never leave us, ever. He says that nothing can separate us from His love. It says that we are going to eventually triumph in everything. He says that although we may go through really deep periods where everything seems dark, even there He is with us and will guide us out. No, this doesn’t mean that everything will always be perfect, or the way we want it, but it does mean that bottom line, I can know for sure that God loves me and He has a plan for my life.

This job was just a stepping-stone for me; I am moving on to whatever God has in store for my family. Some people in my church lost their jobs last year, and God used it like a promotion, because they all got better paying work. That doesn’t always happen, but it could, and I just know that God will take care of my family no matter what. As I have learned more about Him, I have learned to trust Him, He never lets me down, He just changes my perspective sometimes.

Of course, you have to have a relationship with God for any of this to matter. Susan, our sin, you know, our bad deeds, these are the things that keep us from knowing God. But we can still know Him despite our sin because Jesus paid for our wrongs with His death.

You have heard of Jesus, haven’t you? Well, He lived a perfect life so that He could substitute His life for ours. If we believe in Jesus, God accepts His perfect life and His sacrificial death as our payment for sin, and He can then have a relationship with us. We also get to go to heaven and be with Him forever when we die. It is the greatest news of all time, and you can have it today! Believe me, it isn’t just some pie in the sky pipe dream, girl, this stuff is real! You know it is real, you saw it yourself in me.

I am telling you, Susan, this is the best thing that could happen to you. God is telling you right now to trust in Him, and you will see that He has a great plan in store for you, and He will give you the same kind of peace that I have. Isn’t that what you noticed? Let’s pray, and ask God to give you this peace, by telling Him that you aren’t just going to trust yourself anymore, but you turn to Him and are going to trust Him for everything from now on. Ask Him to forgive your sin because you believe in Jesus and I promise you that you will begin to feel a peace that you never have before. That is how you can get what you wanted, what you said you wanted, which is what you saw in me. Well, here is your chance, so let’s do this, okay?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Nothing Can Stop The Story

Galatians 4:4-5

Time won’t permit me to give you all the verses that tell this story, but suffice it to say, the whole Bible tells this story; this is what the Bible is about (Hebrews 12:2 / Revelation 1:8).

In Genesis 3 we see the fall of mankind, and yet God gives the promise of redemption (Genesis 3:15). In Genesis 4 we see that the sin of Adam is passing to and through his seed when Cain kills Abel. In Genesis 5 Lamech kills another for wounding him, and boasts about it. At the end of chapter 5, Seth is born, and because of him, men begin to “call on the name of the Lord”. Yet by Genesis 6 the whole world has become so totally corrupt, God must destroy all mankind.

Genesis 6-9 is the story Noah, his family, and the flood. God destroyed a world that was already too corrupt to allow continuing, but He spared Noah. There is still hope as God makes a covenant with Noah, and all seems well. But Noah became drunk and Ham, Noah’s son, and Canaan, Ham’s son was involved in sin, which brought another curse on them and on their seed.

In Genesis 11 we come to the tower of Babel, only about 100 years after the Flood, and things are looking bad for mankind. But, in Genesis 12 God makes a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3 / Galatians 3:8). God specified that the salvation and blessings that He had promised Adam and Eve would be fulfilled through the “seed” of Abram and Sarai, who were elderly and who had no children. Yet as the story unfolds we watch them endanger this plan by Sarai representing herself as unmarried, because of Abram’s request that she lie about her identity, and at least two pagan kings try to take her for their wife. It was looking like the child would be the seed of someone other than Abram. Not only does Abram endanger the purity of his wife and their “seed”, he also tries to raise up a seed through his wife’s servant, Hagar, at Sarai’s request.

But God protects this couple from their own efforts, and Isaac is born. Then we read that God commands Abram to sacrifice him. How can God’s promise be realized through the death of the promised “seed”? Fortunately, God stopped Abraham from killing his son, and He provided a ram to die in Isaac’s place. It seems the plan of God is finally under way (Genesis 22:18).

But the “seed” of Abraham prove to be a sinful lot. Isaac had two sons, and he did everything he could to reverse God’s choice of Jacob over Esau. Jacob was a deceiver, and one wonders how he even survived. By God’s grace, Jacob did survive, and he ended up with twelve sons, by different wives. These sons were not only willing to kill one another they were also willing to intermingle with the Canaanites. Were this group of Abraham’s “seed” left to themselves, they would have either killed each other off, or they would have intermingled with the heathen so that there was no distinct “seed” of Abraham, through whom God’s salvation would be accomplished. God still had His plan for His seed (Genesis 49:8-12).

God had revealed this plan in Genesis 15:12-17: He would send His “seed” into captivity in Egypt, to protect His “seed” from themselves and from the corruption of the Canaanites. After 400 years, the nation had grown so strong that the Egyptians oppressed them. God delivers the nation from their slavery and began to bring them into the land He had promised Abraham.

God’s promise to Abraham seems to be coming to pass. But this nation began to grumble and to rebel against God’s rule. They even wanted to overthrow Moses, and to go back to Egypt. While Moses was receiving God’s laws for them, they persuaded Aaron to make an idol for worship. For a moment, it appears to be all over. It looked as if God were going to wipe out this whole nation, this “seed” and start out all over. Moses reminded God (not that He needed reminding) of the covenant, and that His character necessitated His keeping it, in spite of the sin of His “seed”. God gave this people His law, and promised that the seed would blossom (Deuteronomy 18:15).

That first generation of Israelites never made it into the land, because of their rebellion and unbelief. They thought that the people inhabiting the land of Canaan were too strong, and that God was not able or willing to deliver them over to His people, and so they rebelled. It was necessary for another 40 years to pass, and for this generation to die off, so that they next generation of Abraham’s “seed” could possess the land of promise.

Once in the land, however, the people of Israel were only as godly as their leaders, the judges. With judges like Samson, things did not look too good for the nation. By God’s grace they did survive, but they wanted to have kings, just like the nations around them. Their first king, Saul, was Israel’s kind of king. He was, as it were, tall, dark, and handsome. But he was not a man after God’s heart. And this king had to be removed. Then God appointed David, not as promising from outward appearances, but a man after God’s heart. God made a covenant with David, promising him an eternal throne, and indicating that it was through his “seed” and his dynastic line that Messiah would come (2 Samuel 7:12-13). In spite of this David sinned greatly, taking the wife of one of his men, and then the life of Uriah, to try to cover his sin. God disciplined David, but forgave his sin and reiterated His covenant with him. The “seed” of Adam, and of Abram, and of Judah, and now of David, would be both the Savior of the world, and its King.

But many of the kings who followed David were wicked men, who led the Israelites into idolatry and other sin. Things went well when good kings reigned, but they went badly when wicked kings ruled, and the wicked kings outnumbered the good ones. To make matters worse, David’s son, Solomon, who seemed to offer such promise, was not at wise at the end of his life as he was at first. By his own foolishness, Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, split the one united kingdom of Israel into two kingdoms. There were never again to be reunited in the history of Israel.

To help keep Israel and her kings walking as God commanded God sent prophets to the nation (to Israel and Judah), to remind them of His law, and of what it meant. They also spoke of a future day of restoration, when God would first chasten His people and bring them to repentance and faith, and judge the nations and peoples of the earth. They spoke of a coming Messiah who would both bear the sins of the people, and who would rule as God’s mighty king, on the throne of His father, David (Isaiah 7:14, 9:6-7 / Micah 5:2 / Zechariah 9:9). These prophets were not received with open hearts and open arms. They were persistently rejected, persecuted, and all to often put to death. Israel did not wish to hear what God had to say.

The Old Testament shows that men were always perverting what God had provided. It becomes clear that if salvation were going to come, if Satan were to be defeated and if sin were to be overcome, it would not be by men, or by their efforts. If God were to bring about Israel’s salvation and blessings, along with those of the world, it would have to come about through a very special “seed”, because the seed always multiplied the sins of their fathers. Things only got worse. The answer was that the “seed” through whom God would save the world was to be a true man, but also true God, God incarnate, who would dwell among men, show Himself the sinless Son of God, and then die for their sins. Israel’s hope was in a man, but in a very special man, a very special seed. And that “seed” was to be Jesus, the Christ (Galatians 3:15-16).

At the Incarnation of Christ, angels proclaimed peace and good will to men. The peace was not political, there would still be and there still is war, strife, and all that, but it was mankind having peace with God thorough this Jesus that was born. It obviously doesn’t mean all people because this was definitely not good news for Herod; that is why he tried to silence it (Matthew 2:8,12-16). Herod wasn’t the first to try and stop the good news from spreading. After Jesus died they killed the Apostles but the message kept going, and the seed kept growing. Today many try and silence the word of God by killing the messengers but it does nothing but spread the message.

So this is the story. First we get the bad news. We can't make it to heaven on our own; no one is good enough to meet God’s perfect standard. In the Incarnation, we see that Jesus reveals God, and no one is as good as Jesus. Romans 3:23 says all have sinned, and all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Did you know that’s what He requires, perfection (Matthew 5:48)? It’s true. Now come on, admit it, you aren’t perfect, you may be better than a lot of people, but are you as good as God? Left to ourselves, we all will die without God, and that is bad news, indeed. However, that isn’t the end of the story.

The story is really about the Good News. God had a plan all along; he knew what he was doing. He would show his mercy and grace to a people he would call out for himself. He would send his own son, to die for those people’s sins, and give those called out people the righteousness they needed, the righteousness of his own son, Jesus. Jesus executed that plan; he came to earth and lived a perfectly righteous life, and allowed himself to die for our sins. He was a righteous man, the only righteous man ever, paying the penalty due us. His death meant that God would grant us mercy. His life meant God would give us grace. You see the mercy is God forgiving our sins because Jesus paid the penalty with his death, and the grace is God giving us a righteous standing based on Christ’s perfect life. God accounts our sin to Jesus’ account, and Jesus’ righteousness to our account. This great exchange is explained to us in 2 Corinthians 5:21 – he who knew no sin (that’s Jesus) became sin for us (he paid the penalty) that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (through his perfect life we meet God’s standard). God had spoken of this plan before Jesus was even born (Isaiah 53:6), and he proved that this sacrifice and this way was what he planned all along by raising Jesus from the dead (Romans 1:4 / 4:25).

Now we obviously didn't deserve it, but that’s grace, my friend (1 John 4:9-10). God draws us to Him in a way that he knows we will respond to if we are one of his, and God gives this gift to us freely. All God asks us to do is believe (John 3:16 / Romans 10:9). When we accept Jesus sacrificial death to forgive our sins, the bible calls this being justified by faith (Romans 5:1), and God counts Christ’s righteousness as our own. But there’s more, because God also leads us into a more holy life, where we learn to truly seek after and please God, and God ensures that we will not only be forgiven of our sin, we also get the glories of heaven. Because God didn’t leave us to ourselves, because God came to earth to die for us, when we die we will be with God, and that is good news, indeed. If you will believe, you’ll make it to heaven, and that’s the end of the story.

Friday, January 05, 2007

In the Game

...I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you…
(Romans 1:8 – ESV)

I have a word for men in the ministry right now. You know we should be grateful that people volunteer to do anything at our churches at all. The Bible talks about fruit bearing in terms of 30, 60, and 100 fold. Not everyone is going to be as fruitful as everyone or anyone else, and not all harvests happen at the same time. The biggest trees often take the longest time to grow. Be glad they are doing anything at all, at least they are in the game, not that it is recreational, but that they are on the right playing field, on the right team, on the winning side. They may not be the star player, but they are cheering and playing for the right ones.

Be glad preacher, for every opportunity that you get. We should be abundantly grateful that as ministers we get to be paid to study the Bible, we are allowed to spend the extra time others don’t have in order to mine the depths of God’s Word. Yes every believer needs to read the Word, pray, etc., but not everybody is going to be moving forward as fast as you, they don’t have the time to put in the time, and you are supposed to be moving ahead. That is what leadership is all about. You give them motivation to keep on using their time as wisely as they can, not try and get them to work 80 hours a week. How about you taking up a shovel for 40 hours and then studying for 40 more?

We are not called to wear them out but to lift them up, and for some people all the commitment they can afford right now is just to make it to church. Yes they should want to do more, but being a good steward is about doing the most with your time, not sacrificing sleep and your marriage and your relationship with your kids so that you can be there at every event and so forth. Just be sure that you give them what they need from you, help them learn about what is and what isn’t a good use of their time, show them the beauty of Christ, and show them what serving God is like. Then they will figure out for themselves how they can make opportunities to serve without having to use more time.

When you are living it, even if they aren’t seeing it, they will learn what it means to treasure Christ above all else, and then they will become as fruitful as God intends them to be. It is up to you, preacher man, to equip them and cover them in the spiritual war, and to steer them onto the right playing field. It is your job to go full tilt, full time. They may not play all four quarters at full tilt intensity, but at least they are in the game.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Transfer To Transform

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son,
(Colossians 1:13 – ESV)

In looking at this verse and the verses surrounding it, Paul is saying how God has qualified us for the inheritance of the saints in light (Ephesians 1:18) and is laying out reasons to be thankful to the Father (vs.12). If you are strengthened with all might (vs.11), then you will give thanks (vs.12), and you will give thanks by acting in accordance with what God has done with endurance, patience, and joy (vs.11).

Giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ is more than putting “in Jesus name” on the end of our prayers. It is both word and deed (Hebrews 13:15-16 / Colossians 3:17, 23-24 / 1 John 3:18). Imagine you gave two children each a bicycle. Which child would truly be giving thanks for that item you gave to them: the one who did it with just words, and never road or took care of the bike, or the one who put it to use? It is the same with that wisdom you imparted to them, or the wisdom God imparts to you. Because of Christ, you are a member of the kingdom of God. In heaven, where God’s kingdom is made most manifest, there is no sin, no rebellion, and no darkness (1 John 1:5). To give thanks is to reflect the light that you have been given.

Think about it like this. In the world, if you have been transferred to a different job or different department, you begin to work for a new boss, under the rules of the new department, and according to the particular company standards. You have to learn the new system, and you have to grow in your knowledge of the job in order to be effective. What Paul is saying is that if you have been strengthened with might, you will have endurance, patience and joy, and by doing this you will be giving thanks, proving that you have been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints and proving that you have been delivered from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of the beloved.

He has delivered us as to eternal status, but also as to temporal character, from the dark power having its claim on us, and also from the darkness having power over us now (Romans 6:14-23 / Ephesians 2:1-6, 10, 6:12). Being delivered from sin’s penalty also carries with it being delivered from its power (1 John 1:6). We are transferred but we must act in accordance with that truth to realize we are transformed (Romans 12:1-2 / Ephesians 4:22-24 / Colossians 3). You focus on the indicative of who you are in Christ, and the imperative of acting like it follows.

There is no middle ground; there are only two kingdoms (if you think you can ride the fence realize the devil owns that). You cannot be delivered from one without being transferred to the other, when you are rescued from something you are rescued to something. You cannot be transferred without being transformed. We are not talking about a degree we are talking about whose domain are we in and whose dominion are we under. Who is your king; if it is still yourself, you are still in the kingdom of darkness (Philippians 3:18-21).

To act in accordance with this doesn’t mean that we are sinless, but it means we sin-less. We are striving towards the light, and not retreating again into the darkness, we realize (we make real) the fact that we are free. This means we act like it, we act like we are free from our sins. When we let a little darkness get in, or however it gets in, we see it for what it is, and we rush to get back to God. If your destination is heaven your destiny is holiness.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

High and Lifted Up

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple…
(Matthew 4:5 – ESV)

Here is our Lord Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Actually, He wasn’t in the wilderness here, He was in the city, and no doubt many were able to see Him on top of the temple. It would seem, if we were in a similar situation, a logical thing to do. If we would throw ourselves down, we could prove what we are saying is truth; how then would people respond!

But Jesus rejected this false “spiritual” stance. He knew that there were to be no shortcuts – He had to go to the Cross before He went to the right hand of the Father. To take the shortcut, glory and power without pain and suffering, was to presume upon the power of God. Jesus could have snapped his fingers and wiped the Devil out. He could have flown down there at the temple and commanded everyone to obey. But He didn’t, and He knew the Father’s will for His life was to do more than assume His place at the throne. He was sent to save mankind, and He had to be lifted up at Calvary before He could be lifted up into Heaven.

Christ was obedient to the scriptures and His faithfulness, when tested, was strong. Had He not been obedient to scripture, His faith would have presumed upon God, and He would have accepted Satan’s scripture twisting tactics.

Knowing what God intends for us by highly regarding the in depth study of scripture is a key to obedience; if we only know some scriptures without knowing God’s will, we will accept others’ interpretations and proof texts. “To the extent that one is disobedient to Scripture, yet respects its authority (at least with his lips), he will twist the text. Cf. 2 Pet 3:15-16. Conversely, to the extent that one is obedient to Scripture, he/she will be in a better position to understand it and deal with it honestly” (Daniel Wallace).

Please don’t miss the relevance for today that we see here. A “knockout punch”, a show of God’s power, an irrefutable miracle depends entirely upon the will of God, and it is not for us to try and help the cause. God may have given you a specific mission, but the journey will probably take you to places that you didn’t expect. Don’t presume that every obstacle, every mountain that stands in your way is test of your faith for victory, and in His power to overcome. It may just be a test of your faith to endure, and trust in God’s ultimate plan, not in His immediate power.

The road of God’s will is not always the shortest path, or the path of least resistance, or the path of moving mountains. As we see here, with Paul and with all the great heroes of the Bible, the path of God’s will lies in OBEDIENCE. Beware of those who would tell you that you need more faith to overcome, or that God doesn’t want you to suffer at all. That is the presumption of faith. Rather, be like Paul in the Roman jail, where he wrote to the Philippians about joy even as he was in bondage. Be like Job, who said, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him” (Job 13:15).

Never presume that faith is always about victory in the immediate sense; ultimately we have the victory, but here on earth, faith is often about perseverance, trusting in God through trials.

Like Jesus did.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

They Mean Something

…And Arphaxad begot Shelah, and Shelah begot Eber…
(1 Chronicles 1:18)

When we are committed to reading our Bibles through, all the way through, not skipping a word, we are tempted to wonder why God saw fit to include some things. Like the genealogies, and the details of travels, why are these in the Bible at all?

Well, you can be sure they are there for a reason, and perhaps we won’t know all of the richness of why in this life, but let me give you some things to think about. When we study we find out certain things have their rightful place in being included. For instance, notice that the two different genealogies in Matthew and Luke point to the two different lines of Jesus through Mary and Joseph, but both have roots in David. So these seem a necessity, in a sense.

What about those seemingly endless genealogies in the OT books, what are they there for? Well, when we see those endless names, think about the fact that God cared enough to put them there. Then think about this. When you are nothing but a name to everyone else, you are still important to God, important enough to be included even if no one else thinks you are worth the time. When you see where the Bible talks about the travels of the old timers and said they pitched a tent here or there, and then here or there again, and so on, think about the fact that when no one else cares where you are God knows exactly where you are, and He does care, every step of the way. God is interested in individuals.

When we see the personal greetings of Paul to certain individuals, think about the fact that although we don’t have much more information than their name, they were important to Paul, and they got their names in the Bible; don’t you wish that were you! Beside the Book of Life, that Bible is the one book I would want to get a recommendation in, it is better and more prestigious than any who’s who list you will ever get on this earth!

When someone takes an interest in you and your details, whether they know it or not, they are acting like Jesus. He has your hairs numbered, and even if your bald, He counted each one as it fell off your head. Use you head, and realize that those words in the Bible, they mean something. You may not care but God does. I may not ever know what all those names mean, but I know this, God wanted them included, and He wants you included, so be glad that God wants your name included when no one else thinks your worth the time. That means something to me.